Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving week 3 - "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good..." ~ Psalm 106:1

This week I'm being thankful for books. I really love reading. I love books. I work in a library and love being surrounded by books every day. I love having access to books at all times. I love visiting other libraries and bookstores. I love seeing my favorite books on my shelves at home. I love hearing about new books and adding them to my to-read list. I love keeping track of the books I read on my GoodReads list. Books inspire me, teach me, comfort me, humor me. They touch my heart and expand my horizons. They offer me the opportunity to experience things and places I may never get to visit or see on my own. Can you tell how much I love books? :)

 One of my favorite reading tools is the website GoodReads. Through this website, I can keep track of the books I want to read, the books I'm currently reading and the books I have read. I can rate them on a scale of 1-5 stars, I can write a review, I can save quotes I many wonderful things. I am also able to read the reviews of other people (including friends/family who have accounts on Goodreads), see lists of suggested books based on any number of subjects or themes, and they also offer giveaways of books which you can sign up to possibly win - and I've been happy to win three times! It's a really wonderful and valuable tool that involves my love of reading along with my love of keeping lists. Additionally each year, I can look at my stats through the website and see how many books I read that year along with seeing how I rated them and the longest book I read.

In thinking about being thankful for books, I was looking over my Goodreads stats for the year and wanted to pick out a few of my favorite books of the year and share them here. These books are from a variety of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, and include two books which I won through the giveaways.

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas

This was the second book I won through the Goodreads giveaway. I had never read anything by this author, but heard about in a People magazine book review and had added it to my to-read list. When I received the book in the mail I decided fairly quickly to start reading it and quickly fell in love with her writing. The book is a collection of brief essays, though really more like stories or memories. There is a bit of a running theme, but mostly they are like stream of consciousness memory, quickly moving from one thought to another, one story to another, one memory to another. This quote sums up a lot of what that book was like:

“But life doesn’t arrange itself conveniently into chapters, not mine anyway. You can’t just slice it neatly into segments. And I didn’t want to write a novel. My life didn’t feel like a novel. It felt like a million moments. I didn’t want to make anything fit together. I didn’t want to make anything up. I didn’t want it to make sense the way I understand a novel to make a kind of sense. I didn’t want anywhere to hide. I didn’t want to be able to duck. I wanted the shock of truth. I wanted moments that felt like body blows. I wanted moments of pure hilarity, connected to nothing that came before or after. I wanted it to feel like the way I’ve lived my life. And I wanted to tell the truth.  My truth doesn’t travel in a straight line, it zigzags, detours, doubles back. Most truths I have to learn over and over again.” ~ Abigail Thomas

The book was wonderful and I immediately wanted to share it and so I lent it to my coworker who also loved it and upon her return of the book included this note - "Keri - Thank you, thank you, thank you! I want to be like Abigail when I grow up." We were both hooked and I quickly found copies of all her writings, both fiction and non-fiction and we read through all of them. None had quite the same punch as the first book (her latest book) for us, but they were all good and I am so thankful to have been exposed to this wonderful writer whose writing really touched me.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

“...what will we someday do, I always wonder, without the pleasures of turning through books and stumbling on things we never meant to find?” ~ Elizabeth Kostova

I already knew that I loved this author because I absolutely loved her first book The Historian. However, I borrowed this book from a coworker and it sat on my shelf for months! Every time I looked at it I never felt in the mood to read and it just seemed like it wouldn't be interesting. Finally I was home and needed something to read and grabbed captured my interest instantly and I was so hooked!!! Many reviewers on Goodreads hated this book, in fact it seems to be one of those that you either love completely or hate completely and don't feel just so-so about it. But I loved it and while I really wanted to figure out the mystery and get to the end of the book, I also never wanted to book to end ever. It was just so readable and enjoyable and wonderful. It's books like this one that help make me love reading so much and I am so grateful.

Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table with recipes by Shauna Niequist

I absolutely loved this book so much! I borrowed it first from the library, but fell in love with it and knew I needed to own it so quickly purchased my own copy. I really appreciate this author and her love for food, faith, community and hospitality. So much of what she writes about really resonates with me and feels like she is speaking my thoughts and feelings exactly. This book made me laugh, it made me cry and it made me want to cook and invite people into my home and it made me realize that loving food and hospitality are both things that can be part of who God made me to be as well as ways of sharing His love with others. She has become one of my very favorite authors (as I shared in my first Thanksgiving post) and I am always trying to encourage others to read her books - in fact, I've even purchased copies for some of my friends because I knew they would be encouraged and blessed by them. I am so thankful for this book and this author.

Daring Greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead  by Brené Brown

 “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” ~ Brené Brown

I have been so encouraged and inspired by the writing of Brené Brown and this book was one of my all-time favorites this year. I ended up with 15 pages of typed notes and seem to constantly find things in my life that reference or reflect what I've learned from her studies and writing. This book helped me to see how important it is to be vulnerable and real with the people in our lives and how shame and fear can keep us away from the things we really want. This is the type of book that lingers in your mind, that keeps sneaking up on you in the strangest and newest ways...the type of book that you carry along with you forever on the journey of life. It's definitely one I will want to read again and probably be struck with new insights and lessons as I grow and change hopefully. I highly recommend this book, in fact I lent my copy to my Dad to hopefully he will enjoy it as well.

Furiously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

I was happy to win a GoodReads giveaway of this book. I didn't really know a lot about the author (although I had previously read her blog post about Beyoncé the 5-foot metal chicken - LOL) or this book, but I am a HUGE fan now. This book made me laugh out loud, snort, stop breathing from laughing so hard and so much more. This book made me think about things that I'd never really thought about. This book gave me more empathy and understanding for the wild things your brain can make you think when suffering from all types of mental illness - depression, anxiety, etc. I may not have the same struggles, but we all have things we deal with and if we can be more kind, more loving, and more sympathetic to others...then that is a good thing. I'm so happy to have won this book and look forward to sharing it with others and reading it again.
A Theory of Light & Matter by Andrew Porter

This collection of short stories is exactly what short stories are meant to be. I don't know exactly what it is or how one does it, but they capture your interest immediately and draw you so deeply that although the stories are short they feel far longer and remain with you longer.

Usually the way I decide what to read each year is very open to suggestion. I might hear about a book that sounds interesting, or I might see a book that was returned to the library where I work and decide to read it. Sometimes I borrow books from friends. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to buy some new books and browse the bookshelves for new and exciting options. Sometimes I'll look at my very long to-read list on Goodreads and pick something. Often a book I read, especially non-fiction, will reference other books and I'm inspired to seek those books out to read. This year, in addition to these various ways of choosing what to read I decided to do a reading challenge that my husband saw on Facebook early in the year. It was a list of 50 categories and they were fairly unique and it looked like a good way to challenge myself and my reading. Currently, I have one book left to read.

I really enjoyed the challenge of this as well as the opportunity to read books which I had always kind of wanted to read, but never seemed to make time for or was ever in the mood to actually read. Books like Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and After the Fall by Arthur Miller. Some books were exciting new finds like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (along with the rest of The Giver quartet), The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, and The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. 

Although I would have never chosen to read Savannah by Eugenia Price, I did enjoy reading the book my Mom loves and my favorite part about it was the natural way the author talked about God and the characters relationship with God and dependence on God. It was not an overtly Christian book, yet God and faith were always presented very matter-of-factly and as a necessary part of life which is a lot how my Mom is and there is one part will stick with me. Upon discovering some bad news that had no easy or immediate answers, the main characters Robert and Eliza Mackay decided to simply pray "God, you know the situation and you know how to handle it. Do what you will and show us what we need to do, if anything. Amen" (something like this). I loved that and will think of it often.

Although it's not the usual way I decide what to read, I'm really glad that I took part in this challenge and enjoyed the opportunity to try some new books and expand my book comfort zones. I ultimately enjoyed just about everything I read and it definitely brought me to some new favorite authors as well as the opportunity to re-read some old favorites.

“Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.” ~ David L. Ulin

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Peter 3:18

Though not all the books I read are about God, they all teach me things and help me along this journey we call life. And everything we are exposed to allows us the opportunity to grow and learn and sometimes even things that aren't about faith can help to deepen or expand our faith. I'm thankful for books and all the ways they make my life better.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for books, for the opportunity to read and learn, and for the ways books can open us up to new experiences and feelings and thoughts. Thank You for parents who instilled a deep love of reading and modeled it often for me and my sister. Thank You for my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Overholt who taught me to read. Thank You for the teachers and librarians who helped encourage me to read and try new books and ideas. Thank You for my job in a library where I can be surrounded by books all day long. Thank You for friends and family who love reading and share new books with me and can get just as excited about the things we learn and read. Thank You for Your Word which is the best reading of all and thank You for helping me to finally make my way through the Bible. Help me to never lose interest in what You have to say. Thank You for loving us, we love you too. Amen.

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